One Month After Hurricane Maria, Public Health Risks Pervade

One Month After Hurricane Maria, Public Health Risks Pervade

October 24th, 2017

It’s been a full month since Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, and Healthcare Ready continues to support ongoing recovery efforts. Previously, we highlighted the sustained damage to the island’s power grid, roads and telecommunications systems; yet the most significant, life-threatening risks are those related to the public health. The threats to public health are receiving more media attention, and deservedly so. These growing threats demand targeted, strategic interventions in order to effectively care for and support patients and their families.

Reducing the Risk of Vector-borne and Infectious Diseases. Diseases that spread through vectors or person-to-person contact may quickly multiply – particularly among vulnerable populations with little to no access to healthcare services, clean and nutritious food, and/or shelter. For example, without proper shelter, the incidence of mosquito-borne diseases, such as malaria or Zika, could increase rapidly. And, even relatively minor illnesses, such as the flu, could have widespread impacts under Puerto Rico’s post-Maria conditions. Distributing vaccinations and medicines help combat the spread of these diseases, but blocked roads and limited communications on some parts of the island present a distribution challenge.

How we’re helping: Healthcare Ready staff are helping coordinate and route tetanus vaccines to health clinics and other facilities all across the island. We’re also talking with our NGO partners in the field, including Project Hope, Americares, and Direct Relief, to learn of healthcare volunteer capacity on the ground, and help recruit more as needed.

Addressing Waterborne Diseases. Over one-third of Puerto Rico’s residents lack access to drinking water, and many are resorting to unsafe water sources such as wells and/or faucets that may be contaminated by serious waterborne pathogens including leptospirosis, typhoid, and cholera. Water purification tablets are an effective solution, but they must first be widely distributed to make a meaningful benefit.

How we’re helping: Just as important as having water purification tablets is knowing how to properly use them. We’re working with partners to make sure donated water purification tablets are accompanied with necessary instruction.

Preventing the Spread of Scabies and Other Parasites. Without clean water for bathing and washing clothes, the incidence of skin-burrowing parasites that cause scabies or other skin infection has been reportedly increasing across the island. Many healthcare workers aren’t trained to diagnose these conditions, leaving many cases untreated and worsening. Education and health toolkits would help healthcare workers increase positive diagnoses of scabies and other skin parasites.

How we’re helping: Hygiene and personal care kits can help in mitigating against the spread of these parasites. Many private sector partners continue to generously compile and donate hygiene and personal care kits. We’re helping connect organizations in need of the kits, or able to distribute them, to these donors.

There is a dire need for prompt, strategic solutions to these crucial and growing risks, among others. By engaging with government and private organizations, Healthcare Ready remains committed and equipped to support these public health needs – as well as the multitude of other needs – in Puerto Rico.

Lailah Fofana

Lailah Fofana is a Program Analyst at Healthcare Ready and a recent graduate of Howard University where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree in Communications with a concentration in Management Communications and Economics. She previously worked as an intern at Kaiser Permanente of the Mid-Atlantic States in the Community Benefits department where she coordinated public health projects and plans while tracking the projected outcomes of each. At Healthcare Ready she is responsible for attending relevant meetings and briefings, developing meeting summaries for HcR leadership, identifying and tracking relevant working groups, and more. With her background in research and communications, Lailah is able to conduct qualitative and quantitative research while assisting with social media communications and blog management. Lailah plans on attending graduate school to earn her Masters in Public Health in the near future.